Limbo is a cute little game about a young boy who travels through a magical forest in an attempt to find his sister. You trick frightful spiders and encounter devious traps, but prevail thanks to your wit and drive. Now available on Nintendo Switch, it sits perfectly well alongside such titles as Super Mario Odyssey and Sonic Mania.
If you’re at all familiar with the subject matter, you know I’m misleading you. Playdead’s Limbo isn’t a colourful, heartwarming adventure. The forest isn’t cheery, but a dark, shadowy place, accentuated by an expressionistic greyscale art style. The aesthetic is comparable to both early silent films and 1940’s film noir, a light-based monochrome that accentuate’s Limbo’s eerie, bleak tone, which is closer to Cormac McCarthy than Charlie Chaplin. Thanks to its unique style, the game’s visual presentation looks incredible even today, looking brilliant both on my TV screen and in handheld mode. Limbo’s presentation is further accentuated by brilliant, thoughtful sound design. Asides from the sound of the player’s footsteps and occasional noise from the forest, the game is silent, only to be broken by frightening instrumentals when scripted events occur.
Limbo is a side-scrolling platformer, but shares more in common with horror titles like Silent Hill than it does with Super Mario Bros. The controls are simple; asides from the usual left-right movement options, the player has a grip button and a jump button. The core complexity and challenge of the game comes from solving environmental puzzles and overcoming obstacles. You can push and pull objects to jump on to reach a higher place, for instance, or pre-emptively trigger a trap that might have otherwise gruesomely eviscerated the protagonist.
Many of the death animations are brutal. As well as being a method of teaching the player the rules of the game, they’re also one of the few ways we come to sympathise with the boy, our player character. The game’s narrative is minimalistic and open-ended. I personally consider the game’s story to be about a search for true friendship in the face of adverse situations, but ultimately Playdead leave the story open to interpretation; perhaps it’s literally a journey through Limbo.
Limbo isn’t an incredibly challenging game, but there’s a degree of trial and error. Thanks to the variety of death animations and the short respawn time, there’s very little to find frustrating here. The mechanics are simple to grasp, but some solutions require you to think outside the box. Fortunately, the game does enough to telegraph potential solutions to environmental challenges without ever needing to outright hold your hand, with smart foreshadowing in low-risk areas that should allow you to overcome trials a few minutes later.
It’s quite hard to talk about a game that’s already been available for some time. Limbo first released in 2010 for consoles of the previous generation, and is well-known thanks to its iconic presentation and narrative ambiguity.
The only addition I could spot for the Switch version of Limbo is subtle vibration when jumping and falling, thanks to the system’s HD Rumble. It’s not an essential change, but helps immerse the player in regards to the reality of the character and scripted environmental events.
A qualm some reviewers had on the game’s original release was the game’s value proposition. Someone decent with puzzle platformers could finish Limbo in a few hours, and there isn’t a whole lot of replay value outside of simply experiencing the game again. However, I find this position contentious. Limbo is more of a work of art than many modern releases, which are designed to artificially grip the attention of the player through meaningless rewards or RNG. Many of the design choices in Limbo would have been weakened if the game’s structure had been inflated; it does not outstay its welcome. I think Limbo is a brilliant game, well worth the full price of entry.
As I’ve said, Limbo’s been out for some time on other platforms. There’s no essential reason to repurchase the game on the Nintendo Switch if you’ve already played it, unless you really want to replay it and desire to do so on the move. If you haven’t played Limbo, however, the Switch is the perfect home for this classic indie gem.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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